VICTORIA will go it alone to mandate the electronic identification of sheep and goats from January 1 next year.
Minister for Agriculture Jaala Pulford will announce at an Irrewarra farm in south-west Victoria this morning that all sheep and goats born in Victoria after January 1 2017 will require an electronic identification tag before being dispatched to a saleyard, abattoir or another property.
The decision has met with anger from national producer representative groups, with the Sheepmeat Council of Australia, WoolProducers and the Goat Industry Council of Australia expressing disappointment in Victoria’s decision to break national ranks – more on their position below .
Sheep and goat producers will be supplied with cost-neutral electronic tags – at the 30-40 cent price of visual tags — for the first year of the transition, but the industry will only have four weeks to give feedback on a transition package and draft implementation standards to ensure the smooth introduction of the electronic identification system.
From mid-2017, all saleyards, abattoirs and knackeries will be required to scan electronic tags of sheep and goats and upload the information to the National Livestock Identification System (NLIS) database. This followed the unanimous recommendation of the Victorian Sheep and Goat Identification Advisory Committee and the Victorian Auditor General’s Biosecurity-Livestock Report, an embargoed ministerial release said.
The decision for compulsory use of electronic tags is based on evidence that the current mob-based visual tag system is not capable of effectively tracking sheep and goats in an animal disease or food safety emergency, the release said.
“The current system does not meet nationally agreed traceability performance standards, and enhancements are not practical or cost effective for Victoria.”
The Victorian Government will provide funding to support the transition based on feedback received and will focus on the phased adoption of electronic identification technology across the supply chain. Agriculture Victoria will take feedback on the draft standards and transition package to assist with the implementation.
Ms Pulford said the decision was another example of Victoria leading the way in strengthening the state’s biosecurity systems and boosting its world-wide trade potential.
“Embracing identification technology will help safeguard our access to lucrative export markets and provide opportunities to continue upward productivity gains.
“The Andrews Labor Government will not leave the industry to absorb these system changes alone – we’ll work with the sector across the supply chain to aid the introduction of identification tags and scanning technology.”
Although the current national sheep and goat identification system is underpinned by a mob-based visual tag system, Victoria was the first to move to mandatory electronic tagging of newborn cattle in 2002, which led to a national cattle EID roll-out.
Expected sheep EID decision faced strong industry opposition
In the face of widespread producer body and stock agent opposition to the mandatory electronic tagging of sheep and goats in Victoria, the State Government has been funding research and field days outlining how individual electronic tags offer greater traceability, productivity improvement, market access and biosecurity advantages.
As recently as January this year, WoolProducers Australia, the Sheepmeat Council of Australia, the Goat Industry Council of Australia, the Australian Livestock & Property Agents Association and the Australian Livestock Markets Association lobbied Ms Pulford to not mandate EID for sheep and goats in the state. The producer group and stock agent bodies stance was also supported by AgForce Queensland, the New South Wales Farmers Association, the Victorian Farmers Federation, the Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association, Livestock SA, the Western Australian Farmers Federation and the Pastoralists and Grazier’s Association of Western Australia.
However, a Victorian move to mandatory sheep and goat EID has been supported by the current chairman of the Sheep and Goat Identification Advisory Committee, Stuart McLean, who is also president of the Australian Livestock Saleyards Association, provided there was adequate industry transition resources.
The media release from Ms Pulford said electronic identification tags have been mandatory in the cattle industry for over a decade. In addition to the traceability benefits during a disease outbreak or food safety emergency, the storage of individual animal data provides opportunities for producers to further improve their production systems, it said. The release said Victoria currently sells the cheapest electronic NLIS tags in Australia and increased demand for the tags is likely to deliver even cheaper products to support producers adopting the technology.
Prior to the 2014 State Election the party’s agriculture spokesman Jacinta Allan said Labor would not introduce mandatory electronic tagging of sheep until there is a nationally consistent approach that is affordable for farmers and well-supported by industry.
More information about these changes is available at www.agriculture.vic.gov.au/sheepEID
Click here for more information on the move to compulsory sheep and goat EID in Victoria.
National industry bodies ‘disappointed’
National industry representative groups Sheepmeat Council of Australia, WoolProducers Australia and the Goat Industry Council of Australia have expressed disappointment at the Victorian Government’s decision to break national ranks and go it alone in requiring all sheep and goats born in Victoria after January 1 2017 to have an electronic ear tag.
Sheepmeat Council of Australia president Jeff Murray said: “As national representative bodies, we reiterate the importance of a nationally consistent and effective traceability system. Our current system is world leading and one that is simple, effective and suitable for Australian production and conditions. What is particularly disappointing is the fact that this decision will have national ramifications, yet little or no national consultation has taken place.”
WoolProducers Australia president Richard Halliday said Victoria having one system while neighbouring states operate under another is “neither practical nor advantageous in any regard and sends a poor message to our trading partners.”
“While the Victorian Government has indicated it will initially subsidise the cost of implementing the system, ultimately the cost of infrastructure upgrades and the cost of tags in the long term will be passed to producers.”
Goat Industry Council of Australia president Rick Gates said the industry always welcomed improvements to its traceability systems and was constantly examining how they can improve.
“In no way are our organisations opposed to the use of electronic identification if it is appropriate for their businesses.
“However, we must have a system that is appropriate for all sheep and goat productions systems across the country,” he said.
Mr Murray said industry and all jurisdictions that partner to administer this system must now urgently convene to consider the practical implications of this decision nationally.
“We commit to engage in the Victorian Government’s consultation process and work towards ensuring the best possible outcome for sheep and goat producers.”
Victoria has consistently refused to hold practical trials of RFID tagss to see if there is a practical cost-efficient way of checking RFIDs for record and identifying non-tagged, non-reading RFIDs at a rate consistent with current saleyard throughput. Their answer has always been bring it on and it will sort itself out. The cost, if it can be done, will be very high and producers in the long run will pay dearly for a system that is not needed. Trials in NSW have documented that the biosecurity requirements for traceability can be met under the current system. What will be shown is that there will be a big animal welfare problem eg. the time taken to handle mobs effectively and efficiently — as there is no technology available to do this job effectively, efficiently and cost effectively. So down time and animal welfare is going to be a disaster for all.